A professor at Fresno State University has taken it upon himself to be the speech police on campus.
Toward the end of April, Fresno State Students for Life received permission from university officials to write positive, pro-life messages in chalk on the sidewalks leading to the library. But a Fresno State professor did not like the message they were expressing and organized a group of students to erase, obscure, and deface those messages.
Today, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Fresno State Students for Life and two of its members to correct this constitutional violation.
The confrontation began when Gregory Thatcher, a public health professor, approached the pro-life students and demanded that they stop engaging in expressive activities at that location. He claimed the students had to be in a campus speech zone in order to express such beliefs.
The problem is Fresno State has no speech zone policy (where free speech is limited to certain small, out-of-the-way areas of campus). Instead, its policies say that “freedom of expression is allowed in all outdoor spaces on campus.” Plus, Fresno State Students for Life had express permission to chalk near the library.
The students informed Professor Thatcher that they had received permission from university officials to write these messages, but he still threatened to erase the messages. And that’s what he did, returning with a group of seven to ten Fresno State students who proceeded to erase or otherwise censor the pro-life messages.
One of the students even stole sidewalk chalk to write pro-abortion messages on the sidewalk.
When one of the Students for Life members confronted Professor Thatcher about this, he stated that “college campuses are not free speech areas” while personally erasing one of the pro-life messages.
Universities are supposed to be a “marketplace of ideas” – a place where students can share their ideas and beliefs without fear of punishment and without being harassed and censored by university officials. To its credit, Fresno State respects its students’ constitutional rights to speak freely on campus. So, it’s a shame to see one professor undermine this by appointing himself the “speech police” and banning the viewpoints he doesn’t like.
Even beyond that, this professor is teaching his students that the proper response to someone you disagree with is to silence their speech, rather than countering it with your own.
That’s why we must defend student rights on campus. Students’ constitutional rights do not change based on the whim of one professor. And one is not engaging in free speech when he silences anyone who disagrees.
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